The Posture of a Christian
I attended my first creation/evolution debate in the late 1990’s, and even as a believer in Jesus, I was turned off by what I witnessed. I wasn’t overwhelmed by data. After spending the first half of my life studying biology, I was accustomed to technical scientific dialogue. If anything, the scientific aspects of the debate were too general for me--a smattering of details a mile wide and a few inches deep.
At the time, I thought Scripture allowed for both theistic evolution and old earth creationism, so most of the arguments raised by these men felt peripheral. I had no doubt that God had orchestrated the origin of the universe; everything I had studied about biology in secular environments (ranging from cancer research at UC Berkeley to a symposium at the University of Florida) indicated the presence of a creator.
On both sides, these men seemed to make mountains out of molehills. I left that night feeling like the heart of Christianity had been missed, and as I fell asleep, I wondered how anyone might find a living Jesus through a venue such as that.
These were strange and lonely years for me as a believer. In the 1990’s, the main purpose of evangelical Christianity seemed to be winning the culture wars. During those years, I attended several seminars that promised to equip Christians to stand firm against the assaults of secularism, and when I remember the body language of those teachers, I remember a lot of swagger and pomp. I think these teachers were trying to demonstrate a confidence that would help young Christians feel assured about their beliefs, but it always felt odd to me. The undercurrent to this body language was: “Those dumb atheists. Those dumb secularists. We’ve got the real answer. We’ll show them.”
I was in my 20's then, so maybe I was just waking up to how theological conversation has always worked, but it was here--during the dawn of internet forums--that I watched dominant, cavalier postures take root in many areas of the faith. A haughty spirit ran through creation/evolution debates, through Biblical gender roles debates, through Calvinism/Arminianism debates, through Rapture/amillennialism debates. Christians didn’t just have an opinion, they had a spirit of bravado. Above all things, in all areas, Christians were certain about everything.
Discernment bloggers began to bless and curse with directives: Christian women should have more babies. Christian families should homeschool. Christians should vote for Candidate X. Only young earth creationism respects the inerrant text. So many lines were drawn in the sand with a swagger, and some of those directives were bizarre. I was smart enough to banter, so I jumped in the fray. Like little billy goats wrestling on the side of the hill, we used one another to try to get stronger. In a crude and untrained form, we were attempting to grow by dialectic.
It wasn’t until I began to reread Western philosophy that I realized the great irony of these matches. Essentially, we were adopting the core premise of secular humanism: we were agreeing that humans are essentially thinking creatures, and that by the power of our minds, we could achieve enlightenment.
This belief—this belief about what we were and what we were capable of doing—was the prime influence on our posture. It was causing us to puff ourselves up. It was causing us to trust ourselves. It was causing us to create a secondary “religion” of the human mind that could operate without God's living, active force in our day-to-day operations.
By saying all this, I’m not making an argument for anti-intellectualism. My favorite theologians are thinkers who have researched deeply. But these dear souls also pursue knowledge with a living awareness of the limitations of humanity. They leave room for a real God to adopt an active role in reaching the world with the gospel--as a result, their posture is different. They understand what they can do, and they also understand what they cannot.
This morning, I was reading the book of Luke and ran across this uncomfortable glimpse into the life of Jesus:
“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”
God hides truth from some people. He reveals it to others. He's that active.
If this is true, it impacts our ability to argue our way out of the culture wars.
It teaches that our best efforts at evangelism will come to nothing, if God doesn’t reveal himself.
It teaches that truth that can’t be forced through the best debates in the world.
It shows us that Paul's brilliant rhetoric in Athens and in the book of Romans will come to nothing if the Lord doesn't go before his words.
It shows us that when C.S. Lewis or Tim Keller are used to woo a soul to Christ, that the Holy Spirit has been involved. Without the Lord's active hand, not even these great evangelists could make progress for the Kingdom.
This passage shows us that our dependence upon Christian bravado, upon debate, upon proof, upon a condescending and dominant posture is foolish—because the revival of a culture is ultimately a product of the outpouring of the Lord's quickening. America is dead, and we will stay dead until he revives us. We will remain dry bones until the Spirit of the Lord hovers over the surface of the deep. Here is the true state of our dependence. We cannot save ourselves.
While we should always be ready to give a ready defense, and while we can be good stewards of reason and research, we must root our ultimate dependence in a Holy Spirit who must go before us to open eyes and hearts, or else all our efforts will be in vain. This is humbling information. It doesn’t allow us to swagger into a secular culture with fancy, intellectual guns-a-blazing. It calls us to get up early and pray before we engage. It calls us to cry out to the Lord before we cry out to our lost friends. It calls us to step every step in utter reliance.
Understanding our reliance calls us to a posture that is not confident in our own readiness but confident in the near presence of our King. When I find teachers who set bravado aside and adopt a posture of dependence upon the living God, I'm enthralled because these men and women point beyond their own abilities and goals to a God who fulfills more than intellect, to a God whose Kingdom extends beyond today's culture wars. These teachers shift my focus from gaining immediate dominance to keeping communion with a God who made specific plans for my life long ago (Ephesians 2:10).
Reliance protects me from self-worship and self-salvation and reminds me that I am a branch in a vine that must wake up every morning and look for sustenance. Apart from Him, I can do nothing of eternal significance--no matter how intelligent I am, no matter how prepared I am, no matter how confidently I stand. All that will come to nothing if I do not abide in the God who goes before me.